Almost all of my couples marrying abroad this year chose to host celebrations over multiple days—delighted by the idea of creating more opportunities to make memories with loved ones, in a beautiful place filled with meaning for them. For destination weddings in particular, it’s an exciting way to make the most of the venue you’ve so lovingly chosen—particularly if there are areas you won't be using for the wedding itself! You can elevate the guest journey, experience more of the country you’re marrying in, and give your friends and family more chances to meet and mingle.
Another reason why so many couples love hosting events before and after the wedding is that it’s a way of spending time with guests in a less pressured atmosphere; a welcome dinner and drinks in particular can be a fantastic way to break the ice, calm nerves, and ensure that spaces and people feel more familiar and relaxed on the wedding day itself. You'll be able to personally greet and welcome all your guests, and even introduce people who’ve never met before. Similarly, a farewell brunch the next day gives you the opportunity to say your relaxed goodbyes and express your gratitude to those that joined you in making such special memories. It also means being able to create events of different formality levels, both in terms of styling and dress codes: the day before might be smart casual, the wedding day could be full black tie, and the pool party the next day could be completely relaxed beachwear. Most international wedding photographers actually include a few hours of coverage the day before within their destination wedding photography package, which means you will have even more photos of your loved ones having a wonderful time and some practice in front of the camera too—which is such a valuable thing.
For couples who have chosen a country because of a previous and much-loved vacation, having multiple days of celebrations means you can also introduce your guests to some of your favorite activities, restaurants, or landmarks that you've enjoyed in the past. For example, a beach where you had an incredible lunch or a restaurant where you had a date! Whether or not you’ve already been there, activities like this can be a wonderful way to encourage guest conversations, and gift them shared experiences they might not otherwise have. Some of the most common and popular choices of activities can be physical ones like hikes, bicycle rides, or group sports; sightseeing ones like boat trips, guided tours, or food and wine tastings; and pampering ones like spa treatments and massages. Additional meals can be in the form of barbeques, canapes, sharing feasts, pizza parties, late-morning brunches, or traditional sit-down meals—accompanied by cocktails, champagne, or whichever drinks you prefer. The key is variety. Try to avoid repetition and have diverse food offerings in different cuisines and catering styles. As many guests who attend destination weddings end up extending their stay and using the travel opportunity to make a holiday of it, you can also suggest some additional activities and locations for them to visit or book themselves. A wedding website is a great way of giving your guests an itinerary of what activities will be included throughout the wedding celebrations and also somewhere you can recommend optional local excursions, restaurants, and experiences that they may wish to book themselves. Information like this will let your guests know what to pack, and will also give them a guide on their daily spending too.
If you love the idea of a mini vacation partying with your loved ones over multiple days in one place, be sure to choose a venue with lots of different areas, plenty of accommodation (either on-site or nearby), and make convenience a priority when selecting your location. Multiple-day weddings also require couples to be mindful of the budget—and to be ready to expand the scope of planning as well. Depending on how simple or elaborate you are imagining these events to be, there will be costs like catering and drinks per person, venue hire, additional florals and furniture hire requirements, as well as additional stationery, transport, and hair and make-up services for you. You can keep costs down by using areas that are public or semi-private—like a cool restaurant or casual wine bar in the nearby town—and asking for guest contributions to a food and drink fund for the weekend; you can also get clever and creative by re-using some of your furniture hire and florals, but in a way that feels fresh and new (a sofa can look very different from one day to the next if covered with different colored cushions and throws!). Remember that you are under no obligation to give all your guests an all-expenses paid three-day vacation! From a planning point of view, it's essential to use a project management platform (like Aisle Planner!) to keep track of all the events, times, and suppliers for each event. I highly recommend having a connecting theme or aesthetic narrative that joins each of the days. It doesn't need to be too matchy-matchy, but making sure each day feels complementary to the others in style will ensure that everything feels seamless, refined, and tied together by a common thread.
There are situations in which couples can sometimes feel a bit forced to provide additional meals or activities, for example, if they've chosen a venue in which all guests will be staying, and that may potentially be fairly remote or distanced from the nearest town. There are also some private hire venues that, particularly in summer, have minimum-night stay requirements of two to three days, or even a week. In these circumstances, it may be a necessity to provide additional meals and ways to pass the time—so do keep that in mind when researching venues and locations for your celebrations. If organizing additional events isn't something that sparks joy for you, or perhaps you want to prioritize the wedding day in order to make the most of your budget, choose a venue with no or minimal accommodation, so that guests understand that they need to make their own plans outside of the wedding day—and use tactful, thoughtful wording on your invitations and website that makes it clear that the official celebrations will be centered around the wedding day.
Remember, it's all about managing expectations: to be clear, is to be kind. You still have the option of suggesting a location for optional, informal drinks and nibbles the night before, where each guest can decide whether or not to attend. This way, guests can either pay for their own drinks and food that night, or you can choose to put some money behind the bar in a form of a tab, or perhaps pick one drink you cover (For example, Prosecco could be on you, but everything else is a cash bar). The latter is something you can decide much closer to the time, once you've allocated the majority of your budget to the big ticket items, and you have a bird's eye view of how your investment will be allocated.
Remember, all your guests' circumstances will be different. Some will be able to take multiple days off work, and some won't, some will have childcare to think about, and some may not feel socially comfortable mingling for multiple days. Be understanding and kind if guests express that they can't attend all the events due to personal, financial, or professional reasons. Send your save the dates and invitations out nice and early (six to eight months before the wedding if possible), and then use a wedding website to share information with your guests, including notes about which activities are optional and which (ideally) are not. Your website and any printed itineraries you provide guests when they arrive will also give them something to reference during their stay, instead of contacting you with questions all the time!
If budget allows, I absolutely love the idea of arranging welcome bags for guests, with fun gifts and travel essentials, welcome letters, wedding weekend itineraries, local maps, disposable cameras, treats, and lists of useful numbers and locations. If you have a hashtag or are using a group photo app, make sure to mention it. This way you can keep track of all the awesome moments that will be documented over the course of the partying! If you can, host your celebrations over the weekend to make it easier to travel around those dates, but don't worry if your venue only has weekdays remaining—this is becoming increasingly common, and guests are more than happy to plan around this. If you are having a child-free wedding, make sure to be clear about this on your website as well, and offer a nanny service if you will have many families joining you for several days. I would also advise you not to over plan. By this I mean, don't feel like you need to fill every part of every day, rushing your friends and family from one thing to another! Your guests (and the two of you) will immensely appreciate some precious downtime between the partying, and the option to spend that time doing some solo activities or simply resting and taking in the views. Generally speaking, leaving about 30-40 percent of each day free is a good rule of thumb. If you are making recommendations to your guests—whether it's accommodation, activities, or food—make sure you take into consideration all budgets and be as inclusive as possible with recommendations at every price point.
Regardless of which route is right for you, the most important piece of advice is not to feel obligated to stretch the budget beyond what you're comfortable with or create elaborate itineraries that don't make you happy. Whatever you choose to do is absolutely valid and your guests will have no expectations beyond those that you give them. Proudly embrace whatever ratio of introvert-to-extrovert you are, make investments that are meaningful to you, and enjoy making whichever decision is right for you. Make the most of those precious moments of togetherness—whether they be spontaneous, meticulously planned, or a perfect balance of both!
Hero photo courtesy of Chloe Ely Photography